February 15, 2019

Peanut Brother: Monks mix community work with simple ingredients to create homemade peanut butter

Monks work in the monastery dining room at Saint Meinrad Archbabbey to fill jars with freshly made peanut butter. (Photo courtesy of Saint Meinrad Archabbey)

Monks work in the monastery dining room at Saint Meinrad Archbabbey to fill jars with freshly made peanut butter. (Photo courtesy of Saint Meinrad Archabbey)

Special to The Criterion

ST. MEINRAD—It’s not unusual to find monks at work cooking, baking or brewing. Monastic communities around the world create products ranging from fruitcake and cookies to cheese and beer.

At Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, the Benedictine monks have “accidentally” begun making peanut butter.

“It is really made by the monks of Saint Meinrad Archabbey,” says Benedictine Brother Nathaniel Szidik, one of the project organizers. “It’s not one person, or two people or three people. It’s a community effort.”

On a recent afternoon, six monks gathered in the monastery’s dining room to work on a fresh batch of peanut butter. At any given time, up to 20 monks work as a team to make, jar or label the peanut butter they call Peanut Brother.

This community project began more than a year ago with three monks who really like peanut butter. They were looking for a healthier option than the commercial peanut butters that have added sugar and other ingredients. Benedictine Father Thomas Gricoski suggested to Benedictine Brothers Nathaniel and Kolbe Wolniakowski that they should try to make their own nut butter.

The trio began to experiment until they found a recipe that worked. It quickly became a hit with their brother monks. The monastery now goes through about 30 pounds of Peanut Brother a month. Monks eat it on chocolate doughnuts, and mix it in Greek yogurt or oatmeal. Some monks microwave it on top of a banana with honey.

“It’s not uncommon to see somebody with a spoon of peanut butter walking around the monastery,” says Brother Nathaniel.

The peanut butter is described as a mixture between chunky and smooth, and not overly oily or sweet. The monks like it so much that they decided to put a couple of jars in the Archabbey Gift Shop to sell. And the project grew from there.

Last fall, the monks prepared 1,300 jars of Peanut Brother to sell at Christkindlmarkt, a craft show in nearby Ferdinand, Ind. Groups of monks worked together for two-hour periods, telling stories and socializing.

“Peanut Brother’s been helping build up the community because it’s giving an avenue where we have more community time together,” says Brother Kolbe.

“There’s a lot of joy,” Brother Nathaniel continues. “There’s a lot of sharing when all of us monks come together to work on this common project.”

Benedictine Archabbot Kurt Stasiak of Saint Meinrad says Peanut Brother is a good example of a monastic work. It’s a simple project that almost every monk can do. It doesn’t take a specialized degree or training, and the monks come together as a team to do the work. It also gives the monks an avenue to share the story of Saint Meinrad Archabbey.

“The peanut butter itself is accidental,” explains Brother Nathaniel. “Yes, it’s fun to make. Yes, it tastes good. But if nothing else, it really opens the door for somebody else to be introduced to Saint Meinrad, but also, maybe encounter the Gospel message through the witness of our work and the story behind the product.

“There’s nothing that brings people together such as a common project,” he continues. “In a certain way, this is helping us realize our humanity and the Christ that is in each one of us.”

Brother Nathaniel says Peanut Brother has enough fans that the monks are experimenting with a honey peanut butter and an almond butter.

A one-pound-jar of Peanut Brother can be purchased for $6.99 at the Archabbey Gift Shop or the Scholar Shop, both located on Saint Meinrad’s grounds. You can also buy it online at www.smagiftshop.com. †

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